The Last of the Mohicans
Summary: Chapter XII
A fight breaks out as Hawkeye and the Mohicans attack the Hurons, whose rifles have been set aside. In the battle, Uncas saves Cora and Chingachgook becomes locked in hand-to-hand combat with Magua, who escapes only by feigning his own death. Hawkeye and the Mohicans soundly defeat the remaining Hurons and free the prisoners. Chingachgook scalps the dead victims, while Heyward and Uncas ensure the well-being of Cora and Alice. After Hawkeye releases Gamut, they argue about the efficacy of prayer-song. Hawkeye cites the pragmatic necessities of battle to urge the psalmodist to abandon the useless weapon of the pitch pipe. Resisting Hawkeye’s logic, Gamut responds by citing the religious doctrine of predetermination and singing another song. Ignoring the performance, Hawkeye reloads his rifle, and the group begins to travel northward toward Fort William Henry. Hawkeye explains that with the brilliant aid of Uncas he and Chingachgook succeeded in tracking the Hurons for twenty miles.
Summary: Chapter XIII
The party travels to a ruined blockhouse where Chingachgook and Hawkeye won a battle many years before. The memorial site spurs Hawkeye to describe the Mohicans as the last of their tribe. The group, with the exception of Chingachgook, sleeps until nightfall, when sounds of nearby enemies cause alarm. The sounds they hear are made by the Hurons, who have lost their way. Two Indians approach, but their respect for the memorial site keeps them away. After the Hurons depart, the group continues toward the fort.
Summary: Chapter XIV
The group treads barefoot through a stream in order to hide its tracks. They pass a pond, and Hawkeye tells the group it is filled with corpses of slain French soldiers. As they near the besieged Fort William Henry, they encounter a French sentinel. Heyward talks to him in French, distracting him while Chingachgook sneaks up to the sentinel, kills him, and scalps him. Firing breaks out between English troops protecting the fort and French forces, and the crossfire puts the party in danger. Thick fog conceals them, however, and they attempt to find their way to the fort through the sounds of battle. The French forces pursue them, but they arrive at the fort safely. As they enter the fort, Colonel Munro weeps and embraces his daughters.
Summary: Chapter XV
Five days into the siege of Fort William Henry, Heyward discovers that the French have captured Hawkeye. Inside the fort, Heyward sees Alice, who teases him for not seeing her and her sister enough, and Cora, who seems distressed. Though the French forces eventually release Hawkeye, the French leader Montcalm keeps the letter that Hawkeye carried from General Webb. Montcalm requests a meeting with Munro, but Munro sends Heyward in his place. The French general urges Major Heyward to surrender, reminding him that France’s bloodthirsty Indian allies are difficult to hold in check.
Summary: Chapter XVI
Heyward goes to find Munro, planning to report Montcalm’s message that the English should surrender. He finds Munro idling with his daughters. To Heyward’s surprise, Munro seems uninterested in Montcalm’s proposal. He accuses Heyward of racism for preferring Alice to Cora. Munro reveals that Cora and Alice have different mothers. Cora’s mother, Munro’s first wife, was from the West Indies and was part “Negro.” When Munro’s first wife died, he returned to Scotland and married his childhood sweetheart. Heyward heartily denies that he thinks less of Cora because of her mixed race, but silently he admits his racism. Munro and Heyward return to the French encampment to meet with Montcalm, who hands over Webb’s letter advising Munro to surrender the fort to the French. Montcalm tells Munro that if the English surrender, they will get to keep their arms, baggage, and colors, and the French will ensure that the Indians do not attack them. Munro accepts the offer and leaves Heyward to finalize the details.
Summary: Chapter XVII
After dawn, the English slowly file out of the fort, surrounded by columns of solemn French soldiers and leering Indians. One of the Indians tries to take a shawl from an Englishwoman as she passes by. When she pulls the shawl away from him, he seizes her baby and smashes it against the rocks. Then he sinks his tomahawk into the mother’s skull. Magua begins yelling the frenzied Indian war whoop, and the Indians attack the English, slaughtering them and drinking their blood. Munro storms through the battle to find Montcalm, ignoring even Alice’s cries for help. Magua sees Alice fainting and hurries away with her. Cora chases after him, followed by Gamut, who has been singing throughout the battle in order to confuse the Indians and keep them away from the young women. As the battle abates, the Indians begin looting the bodies of their victims.
Analysis: Chapters XII–XVII
Cooper suggests that the landscape poses real danger. The characters have extreme difficulty traveling safely through the frontier wilderness. Still, the group manages to meet the challenges of nature by exploiting nature itself—they take cover under fog, for example, and walk barefoot through the stream to hide their tracks. The ability of the group to thwart the challenges of nature subtly critiques Gamut’s Calvinist doctrines, which include the belief that man’s destiny is predetermined and human action cannot alter it. The group undermines this theory by forging its own destiny and manufacturing improbable survivals. Calvinism is a strict form of Protestantism derived from the teachings of French theologian John Calvin, and it soared in popularity during the first half of the nineteenth century. Both the masses and the literary elite followed Calvinist teachings. Edgar Allan Poe and Herman Melville, influential writers of the American generation following Cooper’s, embraced its fatalistic doctrines.
When the party encounters the French army surrounding the gates of Fort William Henry, the novel shifts its focus back to the history of the French and Indian War. The siege of Fort William Henry actually took place, and Cooper uses historical events such as this siege to give credence to his fictional plot and its messages about race relations.
Cooper implies that Cora’s own mixed race explains her desire for an interracial relationship. Although Cooper opposes racism, he makes the racist suggestion that it is more natural for Cora to desire Uncas because of her own race, whereas it would not be as natural for the white Alice to desire Uncas. For the most part, however, Cooper stresses that Cora’s race ennobles her. She straddles the divide between white and Indian culture and is far stronger and more interesting than her sister.
Characters respond differently to the specter of interracial love. Hawkeye, Cooper’s ideal heroic figure of the frontier, fervently opposes racial mixing despite his own easy friendship with Indians. Munro realizes that society condemns his marriage to a black woman, and while he acts ashamed of his first wife by stressing the great distance of her enslaved ancestors, he also angrily defends his wife and his daughter. Munro accuses Heyward of racism, a charge that troubles the latter. Although he denies his racism, Munro’s charge makes Heyward examine himself, and he realizes that his racism goes as deep “as if it had been ingrafted in his nature.”
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